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Excursus on Election – Is it Corporate or Individual? by Michael Browne


From: The Biblical Doctrine of Substitution: And a Defence of Divine Sovereignty : including an excursus on Election; Corporate or Individual? by Michael Browne
Excursus on Election – Is it Corporate or Individual?
In order to safeguard, as they see it, the justice and consistency of God in both His offer of free salvation through Christ to “whosoever believeth in Him”, and His solemn threatening of eternal judgment for rejection and unbelief, there are teachers who question the doctrine of individual election and unconditional election. If God has unconditionally chosen only some individuals to salvation, they argue, it makes a travesty of the Gospel appeal that, “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. In order to accommodate their objections therefore they present a further aspect of election which they say is corporate, and deny that God had any individuals before Him in a predetermined fixed decree before the foundation of the world.
We have already answered the fears expressed regarding the justice of God in the genuineness of a universal offer of the Gospel in the foregoing paper on Substitution. We have shown that one does not need to reject sovereignty in order to proclaim a ‘whosoever will’ Gospel. Neither need sovereignty be rejected to believe that man’s will is held fully responsible for deliberately rejecting the truth from God, whether that truth comes naturally through creation or by revelation respecting salvation: and that man’s judgement and damnation are therefore just and in no way compromise God’s elective decrees.
It should be clarified we are not following a particular theological school in this presentation, and certainly not the hyper faction in either the Arminian or Calvinistic arguments. However, if some of the interpretations seem to favour those who hold the same thing in these parties that still does not put us in their party – it just means at that point we both come to the same conclusion in our Bible study. Because I hold strongly the truth of Christ’s deity and absolute sinlessness and immaculate holiness through the virgin birth, that doesn’t make me a Jesuit or Papist, even though they also hold very strongly the same truths! It is important to grasp this for, in the enquiry which follows, the position we favour – that individual election – is that which is generally associated with Calvinistic teaching. In this we are not supporting Calvinism as such, but presenting truth which we believe is taught by Scripture, and which maintains God’s sovereign rights and glorifies His wisdom and eternal counsels apart from which we should never have known salvation or hoped for future glory. I must be honest with my heart and understanding regarding the Scriptures. I cannot give the lie to my own senses as I read the plain statements of God’s Word, and on the other hand have no wish to wrest God’s Truth in order to accommodate my prejudice or unwillingness to accept its clear intent and meaning.
Former Generations Taught Individual Election
For all our life long we were told that God’s Word taught that as believers in Christ we were the subjects of God’s eternal election. That God had us on His heart from eternity past, knew our names and all about us, and loved us with an everlasting love. We derived immense comfort from this knowledge which became the very bedrock of our assurance that the salvation God planned for us in and through His Son from eternity past, could never be disturbed by anything that happened to us in time, for His purpose involved our eternal salvation. It was a salvation planned from before the foundation of the world, and involved the ‘five golden links in God’s celestial chain’ i.e. His purpose from eternity to eternity for the salvation of His people revealed through His active foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and eternal glorification (Rom 8:28-30). We were told by beloved brethren who ministered God’s truth to us in our early and formative years, that election was a ‘family’ truth for believers within the family of faith. We were given the illustration of the door in the wall which was salvation’s door, above the lintel of which was written “whosoever will”: and so we took Christ as Saviour by an act of personal choice and faith and entered through the door. On passing through and looking back however, we saw another word written above the door on the inside, “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world”, and thus we were given to understand that our salvation had been known and planned by a Sovereign God from times eternal. But there was never any doubt that the election we were taught was an individual one!
But now if the latest theology is to be accepted, we must change our thinking and exchange individual election for a corporate election! At one stroke the ministry of generations is eliminated and replaced by a teaching which denies the individual saint was ever electively in the mind or upon the heart of God from eternity. All God had before Him, we are assured, was a ‘unit’ or ‘corporate entity’ He called ‘the Church’ which He then elected, and He never had a single individual before Him whatsoever whom He chose to be saved! What a teaching! God’s election, following the corporate theory, involved nothing more than an abstract entity or vague concept – an empty box with nothing in it! With great respect, we are not persuaded! We are satisfied with what we have, and will never exchange the grand doctrine of individuality in the elective decree of God for the empty shell of an abstract concept of group election.
Clear Biblical Evidence for Individual Election
Yet there is clear Biblical evidence that God does have a purpose which must be realised through election for both His earthly people Israel as well as His heavenly elect the Church. He clearly does have an elective fiat respecting certain individuals over others (Rom 9:11-13): and He does have “a remnant according to the election of grace” who have been reserved by Him (from amongst the majority on the basis of His grace (Rom 11:5). This ‘elect’ remnant have obtained what the nation as such failed to obtain, but by turning from grace were judicially ‘blinded’ (Rom 11:7). Further, there is a specific statement that from eternity past God did freely choose particular individuals ‘in Christ’ to be a holy and unblameable people suited to His own heart, that is, fit for His presence, in the enjoyment of His love, and predestinated to take the place of sons, because redeemed and made clean by the blood of Christ (Eph 1:47).
The Apostle John, as the beloved ‘elder’, writes his Second Epistle to the ‘elect lady’ and her children, v.1, and conveys greetings from the children of her ‘elect sister’, v.13. I judge the ‘elect lady’ and her ‘elect sister’ to be just that, individual Christian ladies known to the Apostle John, and not local assemblies he refers to using a coded phrase. John is conveying greetings to this particular sister, approved for her faithfulness in instructing her children so that they continue in the truth: and certain solemn warnings not to allow her Christian love to be abused by deceivers who abode not in that truth, who were eager to infiltrate into Christian homes and spoil the testimony of truth. The language used throughout this short epistle is consistent with this interpretation, and thus most clearly evidences individual election. Assembly teachers generally adopt this view, and representative of this particular school is A.M.S. Gooding who writes concerning this ‘anonymous women’,
“Nothing in the epistle suggests or demands that the recipient must be interpreted as a local church. It is unnatural to suppose that such an individual figure of speech should be employed in a little family-type letter of this kind... It is far simpler and more profitable to take the word of God as it stands, ‘the elect lady’. She is not said to a relative or a special friend, but the relationship mentioned is purely spiritual; it is based on sovereign grace. Sovereign grace and election always go together.” (2 John, What the Bible Teaches).
Similarly Peter (1 Pet 5:13) has a parallel thought in his opening clause which, literally, is, “she that is at Babylon co-elect with you”. The AV translators supplied the ellipse required by the Greek text which at this point uses the feminine definite article, by an interpretation (not a translation) and inserted the Greek feminine noun ‘church’ (italicised in our AV to alert us to the fact that word is not used in the original). So in their minds ‘she that is fellow-elect’ together with the recipients of Peter’s letter, is the local church in Babylon, whereas it could equally be either Peter’s wife, whom we know accompanied him on his apostolic travels (1 Cor 9:5), or an unnamed Christian sister in the local gathering at Babylon well known to his readers. While acknowledging both translations to be grammatically possible, and therefore no absolute solution can be claimed, we judge the latter to be the true meaning. In light of Peter’s immediately following statement, ‘and so doth Marcus my son’, we deem it far more probable and natural that Peter would link two individuals together than he would a church and a person: and to use a cryptogram for ‘church’ increases the unnaturalness and improbability of the AV rendering, which again indicates individual election seen in this unnamed sister at Babylon.
When such passages which clearly teach ‘election’ are appealed to, however, their plain meaning and force are nullified by the teaching which explains, (1) the election spoken of in the NT, relating to both the Church and Israel, is not an election or choice by God of individuals but rather of corporate groups; and, (2) that it is not always true that God’s election has to do with salvation, but with ‘historical destiny’ in relation to Israel (Rom 9-11), and to ‘privilege’ and ‘mission’ in relation to the Church (Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 2:9).
Salvation and Individual Election Emphasised in Romans 9 – 11
That it is not only historical destiny that Paul is dealing with in Romans 9-11 – and particularly the temporal history of both Jacob and Esau, their place in Israel’s national history and the nations that descended from them (9:10-13) – is evident from the context of this whole section of the Roman epistle, which is the salvation of his beloved countrymen according to the flesh. Further, that this salvation is on the basis of ‘election’ (9:7-13, 11:1-6).
He has great anguish of heart and could wish himself accursed from Christ for his natural kinsmen, the Israelites (9:2-3). What is this but a painful rending heart-grief for the salvation of the Jewish people! It is clear as light that Paul views the present position of unbelieving Israel as being under the curse of God. Paul is here writing about heaven and hell, salvation and condemnation, and is deeply distressed in his inner heart because of his fellow Israelites who are lost and under the anathema of God. Why else would he be willing to be accursed and separated from Christ for their sake? The remedy should surely be no more severe than the disease – and thus the disease Paul sees and is willing, were it possible, to be the vicarious remedy for by being accursed from Christ, is a sickness unto eternal doom. The Israelites were lost, under a curse, and needed to be saved: and that is the direction of Paul’s thought in this passage.
Then again he addresses a basic misunderstanding in Jewish thinking relative to the kind of election they believed in. The Jews gloried in their corporate election by Jehovah, the covenant God of their fathers. Had not Moses declared, “Only the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.” (Duet 10:15). Jehovah had indeed chosen the seed of Israel above all other nations, and they wrongly interpreted this to mean that all Jews therefore were safe and on the way to heaven, while the Gentiles were on the way to hell. It was this kind of misinterpretation of national corporate election which led them so fiercely to disagree with the statement of Christ that they, as Jews, were in need of His word to be made free (meaning, free from the bondage of their sin, John 8:31-32, cp v.34). Were they not the elect and highly privileged seed of Abraham? So they indignantly replied, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (John 8:33). They failed to distinguish the difference between corporate election to privilege, and individual election to life and salvation!
Michael Browne is from Manvers Gospel Hall, Bath, UK. His paperback book, containing the above excerpt, was published in 1997 and is available at

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